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U.S. House International Relations Committee Hearing On The Future Of Kosova - Report

“The Future of Kosova”

House International Relations Committee Hearing

May 21, 2003

Mr. Chairman, I want to begin by thanking you and Congressman Lantos for your leadership in holding this hearing and for the opportunity to speak here today.

I address this body as I am about to make to my tenth trip to postwar Kosova and with the same convictions that led me almost a decade ago to devote myself to working to resolve the Balkan conflict; namely that the United States shares a moral imperative with the world after the Nazi Holocaust to prevent the resurgence of fascism and ultranationalism in the heart of Europe, and that it is in the vital interests of the United States to further peace and democracy in the context of a united Europe. As Senator Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated in a speech to the Albanian American Civic League’s Illinois Chapter last September, “the naked self-interest of the United States rests on the 21st century beginning with a whole, undivided, and unified, Europe,” because every time Europe plunges into chaos “our sons and daughters die, our economy falters, and we pay the price.” He added that the fate of seven million Albanians in the Balkans is also “critical to our naked self-interest. If the “ethnic legitimacy of the Albanian people is not recognized and protected,” Biden said, “all of the pieces in the region will fall apart, and if we do not stabilize the Balkans, we will pay dearly.”

I believe that there will be no lasting peace and stability in Southeast Europe apart from resolving the Albanian dimension of the Balkan conflict, which begins first and foremost with recognizing the independence of Kosova. Until such time as our government affirms Kosova’s right to self-determination and independence, I believe that we will continue to recycle the failed foreign policy of the past at our peril—risking renewed conflict in the Balkans at a time when we can least afford such an outcome amid a full-blown crisis in the Middle East, dangerous instability in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the threat of a nuclear North Korea.

My point of departure for evaluating U.S. foreign policy in the Balkans is its impact on the reality that Albanians have faced for 125 years–namely, arrest, torture, imprisonment, occupation, ethnic cleansing, mass expulsion, and genocide at the hands of hostile Slavic regimes. This reality was obscured and concealed by the socalled “Great Powers” of Austria-Hungary, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, and Russia, when they began carving up Albanian lands at the Conference of London in December 1912–a process that was formalized at the end of the Balkans wars in 1913 and left the Albanians artificially divided in six jurisdictions.

This reality was completely submerged through four decades of Communist rule in the post-World War II era, which subsequently led to the reign of Serbian dictator, now indicted war criminal Slobodan Milosevic. As we know, Milosevic rose to power on the backs of anti-Albanian and anti-Bosnian Muslim racism. Although President George Herbert Walker Bush stands out for sending his famous “Christmas warning” letter to Milosevic in December 1992, admonishing him that the United States would use military force against Serbia in the event that it produced a conflict in Kosova,” Milosevic was allowed to wield state-sponsored terrorism against non-Serbs for a decade because the U.S. government pursued a policy of appeasement and containment through the Bush and Clinton administrations.

Both the war in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995 and the occupation of Kosova from 1989 to 1999 were met with much diplomatic hand-wringing, finger-wagging, and shuttle diplomacy on the part of the U.S. government and the European Union. When all is said and done, the West essentially watched and waited while Milosevic occupied Kosova, waged four wars of aggression in the Balkans, and committed genocide against Bosnian Muslims and Albanians, slaughtering more than 300,000 men, women, and children in the Balkans and displacing four million before NATO finally intervened in March 1999.

I believe that the U.S. government never intended to intervene in Kosova. It was simply forced to in the space of one year after the Kosova Liberation Army rose up to defend the Albanian people from persecution and death at the hands of the Serbian military, after the bogus October agreement between Slobodan Milosevic and then U.S. Balkans Envoy Richard Holbrooke gave way to the Racak massacre of innocent Albanian civilians that shocked the world, and after the subsequent Rambouillet peace talks collapsed because Milosevic, unsurprisingly to any Albanian or Bosnian, opted for war over peace.

However, once the Clinton administration decided that it would launch NATO airstrikes against the Serbian military and paramilitary death squads in Kosova, a new doctrine of “humanitarian intervention” was proclaimed. For a short period of time–while the world witnessed Kosovar Albanians shot to death, forcibly deported from their homeland in cattle cars, and packed into squalid refugee camps by the thousands on the Macedonian and Albanian borders—the century-long Albanian reality of arrest, torture, imprisonment, occupation, ethnic cleansing, mass expulsion, and genocide in the heart of Europe was catapulted into the international spotlight.

But the spotlight dimmed soon after the war ended, when the Serbian propaganda machine kicked in, with its huge advantage over a not-yet-sovereign Kosova, a Kosova under the control of the UN Security Council, which includes three staunchly pro-Serb nations (France, Russia, and China) among its permanent members. Albanians in postwar Kosova are now back to where they were in 1913, at the mercy of external powers, this time the United States as well as Europe and Russia, and wrongly depicted by Serbia, the originator of the genocide, as the principal source of violence in the Balkans and threat to regional stability. I think that this hearing is the appropriate place to ask ourselves why—after Serbia brutally and illegally occupied Kosova for a decade, exterminated thousands of Bosnians and Kosovar Albanians, and forcibly expelled millions more—is U.S. foreign policy still Belgrade-centered? Why are we refusing to confront the main issue—which is the need to de-Nazify and democratize Serbia? This has been the issue ever since Milosevic came to power, and it can no longer be concealed in the wake of the tragic assassination of former Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, which was the result of a massive and longstanding collusion in Serbia between war criminals, organized crime, and the ruling establishment.

I believe that this hearing is also the appropriate place to ask a number of other interrelated questions: Why did the United States allow Milosevic to occupy Kosova and then try to kill and expel the Albanian majority there in the first place, a population that was committed to nonviolence until it was forced to defend itself and remains to this day deeply pro-American? Why did we make Milosevic, one of the worst war criminals in the modern era, into a peacemaker at the Dayton Accords in 1995, assenting to his wish to keep the Albanian issue out of the negotiations and awarding him a near-sovereign territory in the form of Republika Srpska in exchange for his signature to end the war in Bosnia? Why did we support the Kosova Liberation Army during the war in 1999 and then in the postwar period join Western Europe in branding the liberators as “terrorists?” And, finally, why, after acknowledging the lessons that we had supposedly learned from our deadly waiting game in Bosnia and our near-fatal delay Kosova, are we endangering the postwar reconstruction of Kosova? By our actions and our inaction, why are we leaving Kosova in a social, economic, and political limbo and risking war in the process?

I believe that there is one, underlying answer to all of the questions that we should ask ourselves today—namely, that the United States and Europe have operated and continue to operate according to Belgrade-engineered myths about the Serbian-Albanian conflict that serve to demonize Albanians and rationalize their destruction. The primary myth—that Albanians are a violent, potentially fundamentalist, Muslim force in the heart of Europe—enabled Europe to remain “neutral” during the Milosevic’s genocidal wars. This myth allowed the United States to write off the Balkans for years as unimportant to our vital interests so that we would not have to put American lives at risk. This myth now enables us to justify taking a backseat to Europe in the region’s future—a Europe that does not want to take responsibility for its complicity in Milosevic’s wars against Bosnians and Kosovar Albanians, a Europe that erroneously thinks that Serbia holds out the promise of riches (when the breakup of the former Yugoslavia was triggered by its financial collapse), a Europe that fears the specter of a “Greater Albania,” when the only hegemonic force in the Balkans has been the quest for “Greater Serbia,” and a Europe that believes that completing the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia through an independent Kosova will somehow set a precedent for other self-determination movements that it is not prepared to recognize.

The U.S. government has found it all too easy to accept the myth that Albanians, not Serbs and Macedonians, are the perpetrators of violence in Southeast Europe, even though Albanians have never waged wars of aggression in Europe. Sadly, part of the Bush administration has accepted the myth that the Kosova Liberation Army is a terrorist group. In reality, UCK was a people’s defense force that rose up to defend innocent Albanian civilians against the Serbian army, the largest military power next to Russia in the former East Bloc. The greatest tragedy now, in postwar Kosova is that the anti-Albanian propaganda machine, led by Serbian Deputy President Nebojsa Covic is succeeding in creating a false parity between Serbian state-sponsored terrorism, which left thousands of Albanians dead and millions displaced, and individual acts of revenge by psychologically shattered Albanians after the war, as well as acts of violence by some Albanians who have joined the ranks of organized criminal syndicates and shadowy extremist groups. In reality, you will be hard pressed to hear Kosovar Albanians talking about wanting to kill Serbs. But you will hear Kosovar Albanians talking about Serbs wanting to kill them. You will find an Albanian population filled with fear about being placed back under Serbian domination. You will also hear Kosovar Albanians, as well as Albanians around the world, asserting correctly that Slobodan Milosevic is in The Hague today notbecause he tried to exterminate Albanians and Bosnians, but because he failed to do so, and hence was rejected by his people.

Sadly, part of our government has found it all too easy to accept the myth that Albanians are Muslims, even fundamentalists, who pose a threat to Christian Europe. In reality, they are secular Muslims, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox Christians who have lived together harmoniously for centuries. Finally, part of our government has been all too willing to embrace the myth that Serbia is a democratic society. But, as we now know, Belgrade was for months busy selling weapons to Iraq, has refused for years to turn over indicted war criminals to The Hague, was jubilant on 9/11, and is closer to a gangster society than a newly minted democracy. By the way, I say this in full awareness that there is a courageous, anti-racist and anti-war opposition in Serbia that the West failed to support for years until it was convenient to do so. Nevertheless, progressive Serbs are currently in the minority, and it is time for the U.S. government to recognize that Albanians in the aggregate are the western-oriented, democratic force in Central Europe.

In response to Kosova’s call for independence, the UN Security Council has called for “standards before status.” “Standards before status” has become the mantra of almost every government, every multilateral institution, and every international NGO. It has even become the mantra of one of Kosova’s leading political parties. But this mantra simply perpetuates the myth in a new guise. It has less to do with democracy building than it does with Europe’s desire to postpone final status resolution in Kosova. Senator Joseph Biden said in introducing his resolution on “Self-Determination for Kosova” floor on May 15 that, “Some argue that foreign capital is hesitant to invest in Kosova as long as its future political status remains undefined.” He believes, however, that “this line of argument confuses cause and effect” and that “Kosova’s final status remains in limbo because conditions on the ground there do not yet allow the international community to allow a final status to be chosen.”

I respectfully disagree with the esteemed Senator from Delaware and concur instead with you, Mr. Chairman, when you stated on December 20 that, “The ‘standards before status’ approach of our State Department and of UNMIK is a cart-before-the-horse attitude” and that, with 70 percent of the population under the age of thirty and more than 60 percent unemployed, “we are paving the way for another Gaza Strip, this time in the middle of Europe.” You rightly concluded, in my opinion, that “there will be no jobs without peace and stability, but there will be no peace and stability without an independent Kosova.”

It is becoming increasingly impossible to meet most of the “standards” that the UN Security Council has set forth for Kosova without a resolution of final status. Foreign investors simply will not bring their businesses to Kosova if, in the absence of sovereignty, no one can legally buy or sell “state property” and if, as a result, corruption and organized crime are allowed to flourish. If you go to postwar Kosova today, you will also find a society that is in the main highly educated, multilingual, hard-working, entrepreneurial, and motivated by a strong cultural identity and hope for the future in spite of the wounds of war. Kosovar Albanians do not want to remain dependent on foreign aid, which is quickly dwindling in any case. But if Kosova is to thrive, it must be integrated into the Stability Pact and given access to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. There will be no large injections of capital from Europe and the United States until Kosova is a sovereign state. Therefore, delaying final status is a recipe for undermining the economic and political viability of the region. It will turn Kosova into a dumping ground for organized crime and inferior products emanating from other states.

In addition to “standards before status, there are two other mantras that the international community has used to postpone final status resolution. These are the demand that Kosova must first become a “multiethnic state” and that it must guarantee the return of substantial number of Serbs who fled or were driven out at the end of the war. Kosova is not a multiethnic society; it is close to 95 percent Albanian with minority populations of Serbs, Bosniaks, Roma, Ashkali, and Turks. The international community should be focused on establishing the rule of law and respect for and protection of minority rights. To some extent it has succeeded, through admirable work by local NGOs such as the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms and U.S. government agencies, such as USAID.

But the cry for “multiethnicity” and “Serb returns” has too often been a propaganda tool used by Serbia to block the integration of the Kosovar Serb minority into a majority Kosovar Albanian state. Nebojsa Covic gave an interview in Serbia’s Beta in the fall of 2001, in which he said that there “could be no solution until the international community deals with the issue of the violence, terrorism, and ethnic cleansing visited on the Serb community in Kosova.” In casting the Kosova Serbs primarily as victims of Albanians violence, he asks the world to forget what Serbia did in Kosova, to look the other way as he and his colleagues in Belgrade work to destabilize Kosova and to make the de facto partition of Mitrovice and northern Kosova a permanent reality.

Belgrade continues to inflate the number of Serbs who were in Kosova to begin with and who now want to return. Most of young and able-bodied Kosovar Serbs do not want to return except to get grants to rebuild their houses, sell them, and then leave for good. On this point, I am submitting, for the Record, with your permission, Mr. Chairman, an excellent statement from Bob Churcher, former head of the International Crisis Group Office in Prishtina and currently a consultant to the British Foreign Office. Meanwhile Belgrade and its allies are mute on the need for reciprocal returns of Serbs to their homes in the south and Albanians to their homes in the north of Mitrovice. There is a reason for this. The ultimate goal of those who make Kosova’s future contingent on the return of Serb refugees is not making respect for the human and civil rights of Serbs and for the rule of law the order of the day, but in partitioning Kosova along ethnic lines or giving it “substantial autonomy” under “Serbia and Montenegro.”

The Kosova parliament and the Albanian people are not against the return of Serbs, but they need assurance from the international community, led by the United States, that independence will be granted in order to surmount their legitimate fears of the renewal of Serbian state-sponsored terrorism. But I do not believe that the Bush administration is prepared to give their assurance. On the contrary, I believe that the American endgame is “granting” Kosova “substantial autonomy” under Serbia, an act that would simply reinforce Western European economic and political ties to Belgrade that have been cemented with more than a century of anti-Albanian racism and with Albanian blood.

Mr. Chairman, this strategy of continuing to prolong the life a doomed Yugoslav federation, will not work. Now that Montenegro (with only 650,000 people compared to Kosova’s two million) has announced its intention to vote for independence in a national referendum in 2005, and the international community has accepted this, the argument that granting Kosova its independence will lead to chaos in the Balkans will not hold up. The key to lasting peace and stability in Southeast Europe is an independent Kosova, secure within its own borders, and able to accept its minority groups—without viewing them as some sort of Trojan horse. Mr. Chairman, the key to accomplishing this is sustained American engagement in the Balkans and willingness to make clear to Western Europe that Kosova’s independence is the only way to prevent renewed war in the region.

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